The Awful, Terrible, Wonderful Burden of Love
Anna-Banana, nee Anna Dorothy Sawyer, slipped out of her boyfriend’s car and quickly hopped over the culvert, up the little hill and into the woods as quickly as her moccasins could take her. Her backward wave to Keith was perfunctory, as they had made out most of the afternoon on the long bench seat of his old Dodge Dart. The goodbye had been a last, long crushing of mouths and teenage angst, longing to do so much more, but not wanting to lose their virginity in the bushes or backseat. Someday soon their chance would come when one of their parental sets would go out for a long date-night and leave them in an empty house, with their choice of bedrooms.
It was so romantic. Anna and Keith were fifteen and sixteen, respectively, and more in love than anyone had ever been, in all of time. That no one else could see this amazed them.
“It shouldn’t amaze us,” Keith had said a few weekends ago when trying desperately to change Anna’s mind about that backseat venue, “people are so dumb.”
“Especially our parents!” Anna agreed.
Today they had skipped school after second period, and had been trying to find a perfect place for the greatest lovemaking the world had ever seen ever since. But with only seven dollars between them, no adult IDs and little experience in, well, anything – they had finally given up. After several hours of making out, causing Keith all kinds of issues, and making Anna’s lips grow tender, they had said good-bye and he had dropped her off at the foot of her street and sped off.
Anna slipped through the woods, watching for her house to appear. As she poked her nose around a tall fir, she noted that the garage door was closed. That was odd. Mom usually left it open all day and dad would mildly chide her each evening when he came home.
“Liz,” he would say time and time again, “you should keep the garage door shut when I am at work.”
He would then say – to keep the cold out, or the cool in, or so no one can see only one car and try to attack you…some reason for closing the big door during the daylight hours he was away. But even when at his most frustrated with her mom, or one of their five children, his voice was deep and measured and kind. Anna could not remember him ever raising his voice.
Well, he did raise his voice sometimes – but not in anger. At football, ice hockey, baseball or any number of sports events, Will Sawyer’s voice could be heard to escalate with cheers for his team or advice to the umps. At little league, usually as one of the coaches for a sons’ team, he would shout out encouragement to all the scurrying little boys; all of them rambling around the field with little comprehension of what they were doing from one moment to the next. As the youngest, Anna had loved to watch them and hear her dad shout out, “Way to go, Buddy! You can do it, Jerry! Batter, batter – swing!”. She had lived a lot of her childhood playing under the stands while one of her four brothers stole home and won the game. She was the only non-athlete in the family.
Dragging her thoughts back to the moment, she now sized up the house, seeing one of her cats, Babylon, snoozing on the back porch swing. Slowly she crept out of the protective shadows of the little woods by her house and into the afternoon glow of two pm. She was sure her mom had told her that she was playing golf this afternoon, and if she was late getting home, she should do her homework until she got there to start dinner. Maybe mom had remembered to close the garage door for once!
She sidled up to the back entrance, the one that opened onto a mud room by the kitchen. She took her key out of her pocket and slid it into the lock – it opened with a loud click and a pop. The door squeaked a bit as she leapt inside and closed the door behind her. She stood like a statue, holding her breath and listened.
Anna heard the tick-tock-tick of the grandfather clock in the front entrance, straight down a hall that cut the house in two. But what was that? The soft sound of music swirled about her head, coming, it seemed, from the living room to the right of the front door. She heard no other sound, however. That indicated mom was out golfing, because she always had the TV on all day, playing in the background and totally ignored. That mom had left the stereo still playing a record, or maybe it was the radio, did not give her pause. Her mom left lights on, doors open and everything playing at once all the dang time. A constant practice for their family was to all get settled into the car, start buzzing to their destination when dad would turn to her and say,
“Did you turn off the coffee pot?” and without waiting for her answer, he would turn around and they would go home and turn off the coffee pot, unplug the curling iron and turn off the TV. Or some variation on that theme. The kids even started telling their parents that functions started thirty minutes before they actually did to accommodate this weird family tradition.
But Anna was the only child left at home now. All four brothers were in college, the army or married. She was due to have her first nephew appear in about four months! What joy. She couldn’t wait until she and Keith had their babies. They would have ten and they would all be girls and they would be more beautiful than you could stand. She had it all planned out.
Again, our little daydreamer dragged her attention to the rest of her afternoon. She really should go up and do some math homework, she could feel it weighing her down in the depths of her backpack. Straight As were a must if you wanted to go to Yale. And she would go to Yale, and get married her senior year. She was going to be a famous author. That, too, was all figured out by she and the handsome, charming and witty Keith.
She walked up the hall, but softly because the music playing was a slow, beautiful waltz – and something was strange about the atmosphere. Her dads after shave was still in the air, odd as he left at seven am. It competed only a bit with her mom’s perfume, Obsession. And she saw, on the kitchen table as she passed it, that mom had also left a candle burning and there were a couple of cocktail glasses, empty but for a cube of melting ice.
Anna’s suspicions were on high alert, as she covertly squatted down and inched her face around the wall from the hall into the living room. There, with golden daylight streaming all around them, the Tennessee Waltz playing as they swished and swayed around the carpet, the table pushed back against the sofa making plenty of room, were her parents.
Will and Liz Sawyer. Married thirty-five years, five kids, one daughter-in-law – a mortgage, two cars, two cats and one dog…should have been old fogies, fighting about chipped dishes and when would they take a vacation, like her friend’s parents. He should be at work; it was a Tuesday, for God’s sake! She should be hauling her shapely butt around nine holes of golf with her friends, Karen and Deb. Dinner should be half made and a cake freshly baked.
But no. Here they were, dancing in the living room at two in the afternoon to romantic music, a high ball in their tummies and his cheek pressed against her hair - his hand pressed against the small of her back, where his thumb gently made lazy circles against her silky blouse.
And her hands were not demurely pressed into his, but one was caressing his neck and the other - tucked into his back pants pocket!
Would she never be able to count on some normalcy around this house? A small groan
escaped her lips as she realized how close Keith had come to convincing her to let him come home with her and do the deed today, while mom was playing golf. If he had seen this mess, she would literally die of embarrassment.
Golf! What a big liar her mom was! She was about to storm into the room and give them a piece of her mind when two things happened.
The first was, she remembered it was only two o’clock and she was home for no particular reason two hours early. How would she explain herself to these wiseacres? They might be the most gross, mushy parents that ever existed, but they were not stupid. Nor particularly fond of Keith.
The second was a more subtle thing, a message for her heart. Under the embarrassment and consternation of finding her parents at the end of a tryst, just like what she and Keith had been trying to plan for months, there was a “something”. Under the burden of being the last child having to live with these characters from a Shakespeare play. Just below the heavy weight of being the only daughter of Romeo and Juliet. And this was the message her heart heard:
As he leaned slightly back so he could gaze into her mom’s big, blue eyes, her dad spoke tenderly these words that she had heard a million times, but still made the hair on her arms and neck stand out with electric attention:
“Your smile is my guide, your spirit is my flame, you are more beautiful today than you were the day before – and I am deeply, helplessly, forever in love with you, Lizzy girl. Will you be my wife?”
Anna turned to slither back outside and into the woods where she would do her math homework until it was safe to come home. But as she turned, she heard her mom’s soft laughter, as she always laughed when he said these words that made Anna’s eyes blur, and heard her only reply:
“I will be your wife, if you want me to, my love.”
And “her love” kissed her brow and closed the deal with his response:
“I want,” was all he said.
And right then, as Anna-Banana bumped her way back outside, she knew that there would be no tryst with Keith in her near future. Because suddenly, completely and utterly – she wanted a romance like her hot mess parents had, one day. And for that to happen, she would have to wait.
To wait, and see.